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Economic History I: Introduction

Why the Past and the Present Are Inextricably Linked

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Click here to be taken to Part II if you’ve already read the intro.

Over the last few years, the most pressing issue on the minds of Americans, and many without the country’s borders, is the uncertainty revolving around the state of the economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

With January’s unemployment rate at 9%, both graduate and undergraduate students are being pressured, both internally and externally, to look to more practical and secure academic pursuits. As a second-year at the University of California at Davis, a mere 15 miles from Sacramento, the state’s capital, I have witnessed this phenomenon firsthand many times over. As an Economics major, I must confess that I too have—and continue to—experience this pressure. With each lecture, I find myself questioning whether the subject matter of the day, week, month, or quarter will provide me with the tools to become a success in my field.

To fulfill the requirement of achieving an A.B. in Economics at UC Davis, all undergraduates must take at least one Economic History course, though additional courses may count towards other major requirements. As can be expected, especially in times of recession, the first question most of my peers ask is: “How is this class relevant? What am I going to learn in here that’s going to help me succeed?”

I would never myself, for example, challenge the practicality of Econometrics which factors in mathematical formulae, statistics, and economic concepts to create mathematical models in an attempt to determine the statistical significance of findings to describe economic systems. Thus it seems only natural for majors within the Economics department to lean towards these branches of study as opposed to Economic History.

Economic History encourages its disciples to find patterns in the sequence of past events which will prove useful in making day-to-day decisions, determining policy, and anticipating the future. Individuals should leverage all of the resources they have at hand in order to make informed decisions. Why would you overlook the events of the past in making such determinations?

What can we learn from the collapse of the Soviet Union? Were there events that foreshadowed its failure? Can we use our findings to help us determine the success or failure of other countries?

How did the Federal Reserve first come to be? How has it adapted to different crises and is it effective enough at its regulation and oversight duties to justify its existence?

Mission Statement: The goal of this series is to explore and link events of the past with modern day issues in order to gain insight into the topics/phenomena at hand as well as those we might expect in the future.

This series has benefited from the supervision of Dr. Janine Wilson at UC Davis.

Additional sources:




Posted by on April 2, 2011 in Economic History


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